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Old 30th May 2005, 10:31 PM   #1
B.I
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Default mughal dagger with royal provenance

this dagger has provoked some debate. i have strong opinions, but would love to hear other views. it was recently sold in auction. this is the description, along with the provenance.

A SMALL MUGHAL KNIFE WITH AGATE AND JADE HILT, INDIA, EARLY 17TH CENTURY
A UNIQUELY IMPORTANT MUGHAL DAGGER WITH BLADE STAMPED WITH A CROWNED CR MARK OF CHARLES I OF ENGLAND (R.1625-1649)

MEASUREMENTS

measurements note
23.5cm.

DESCRIPTION

hilt of banded agate set with a jade pommel exquisitely carved in the form of a ram's head with a collar of lotus petals, the steel blade with floral damascening at the forte and stamped on one side with the crowned initials CR, later repair to hilt, fitted red leather case from Parkes, 12 Vigo Street, Regent Street, W.

PROVENANCE

Probably King Charles I (r.1625-49)
Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery (1847-1929), Liberal Prime Minister (1894-1895), and thence by descent

This exquisite dagger is probably the smallest Mughal jade-hilted knife in existence. The jade ram's head pommel is remarkable for the refinement of the carving and the naturalism with which the animal is rendered, down to the individual hairs of the beard. Finials and pommels in the form of animal heads gained popularity during the reign of Shah Jahan (1628-57); the jade wine cup with ram's head handle in the Victoria and Albert Museum is a notable example (inv. no. IS 12-1962), to which this more modest piece can be compared. The quality is certainly commensurate with an elite commission.

The stamped CR mark on the Indian blade is of great interest. Extensive research has shown that it is not a cutler's mark, nor is it a government acceptance mark which is found on armour of the Restoration period. It most resembles the brand used on the back of Charles I's pictures which were dispersed after his execution. A detailed search through the inventory of Charles I's estate shows a number of references to daggers with hardstone handles; regretably none is specific.

The arrival of Indian objects in England in the early seventeenth century and their entry into the Royal Collection is recorded in a number of documented instances, notably the manuscript sent by the Emperor Shah Jahan to King Charles in 1638, as well as an Indian brass image recorded in the 1638 Royal Inventory (The Origins of Museums, ed. Oliver Impey and Arthur MacGregor, Oxford, 1985, repr. 2001, p.381 & notes 54 and 55). Although there was clearly more than one series of exchanges, the voyage of the Earl of Denbigh to India in 1631-33, was the most celebrated of these early encounters.

William Feilding, 1st Earl of Denbigh (c.1582-1643) rose to power at the court of King James I (1603-25) and then Charles I (1625-49) through his marriage to Susan Villiers, the sister of the royal favourite, the Duke of Buckingham. Feilding was created Master of the Great Wardrobe and Earl of Denbigh in 1622. A decade later he embarked on a sea voyage to India, prompted, we are told, by curiosity and a sense of adventure. Travelling on East India Company ships and carrying letters of introduction from King Charles, the journey had a serious purpose: to revive contact between the British court and the Mughal Empire, first established by the embassy of Sir Thomas Roe some seventeen years earlier, and to build political influence at a time of expanding trade.

Denbigh stayed in India about a year and a half before returning to the court of King Charles in August 1633. Amongst the gifts and souvenirs that he carried home with him were jewels, some pieces of 'Mesopotamian' cloth and an old 'pagan coat' (The Raj. India and the British 1600-1947, London, 1990, pp.73-4). His dandyish interest in Mughal clothing is manifested in the large oil portrait by Sir Anthony van Dyck in the National Gallery, London (acc. no. 5633) painted soon after his return, in which he is shown clad in a paijama of Indian style evocative of the new age of exotic travel. Two Mughal silver water sprinklers (gulabpash) bearing the arms of the 3rd Earl of Denbigh, one in the V&A (inv. no. IS 46-1988) and another sold through these rooms, 12 October 1988, lot 89, were evidently brought back by the 1st Earl at this time. It is tempting to suggest that Denbigh presented Charles I with the knife upon his return in 1633.

In the late nineteenth century the knife is recorded in the collection of the 5th Earl of Rosebery (1847-1929), Liberal Prime Minister (1894-1895) and an avid collector of Jacobite relics. The handsome case of crimson red calf made by Parkes of 12 Vigo Street, off New Bond Street, dates to this period. Rosebery married in 1878, Hannah Rothschild, only child of Baron Meyer de Rothschild, heiress to the fabulous collection at Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire. The handsome case of crimson red calf made by Parkes of 12 Vigo Street, off New Bond Street, dates to this period.
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Old 1st June 2005, 12:39 AM   #2
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Beautiful piece. If I remember right, this was auctioned at Butterfields and was said to be the slimist hilt ever seen. My hilt is also as slim and adds credance to my belief that mine is not a Mughal steak knife. Congratulations (envy, envy, grumble, grumble...).
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Old 7th June 2005, 08:45 PM   #3
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i finally got some more images (not very good i'm afraid) of this dagger and i hope it will provoke a debate, as its form and the above description beg questioning.
sorry, battara, but it is not mine. i did get a chance of a close examination and was left in confusion.
the description waxes eloquently about a tenuous link to king charles, but if you read carefully, you see this is purely speculative. even more speculative (and a bold and daring guess) is the name of the giver, which is assumed (and stated its assumed) by pure 'indian' association.
i have a lot of problems with this piece, and most of which are of an asthetic nature. the jade rams head it very well carved (of high quality), but it just doesnt match the agate handle. i cant believe a 17thC craftsman would put these 2 elements together. the repair they mention, is the band in the centre of the grip, which joins two broken halves of agate. the pretty box is pure victoriana and the name on it apparantly matches this 19thC date.
my feelings are that in the late 19thC, probably at the same time the box was made for it, it was put together from different elements.
the only true provenance (before entering fairy land) is late 19thC so there is a good chance that the piece didnt exist as such, long before it was bought by phillip primrose.
the CR on the blade must be a mystery, as i know they had access to all known cutler markings. whethe rits king charles or not, who knows. it may well be, but i feel if it is, than it was a re-used blade.
the gold decoration is of an indian style, and probably done in india.
in the past, jens has shown a great katar he owns, with a side knife by john jencks (early 17thC). this knife was part of a wedding set, and reused and redecorated in india to match the katar which it was married to. the katar is of a slightly later date to jencks, although probably within the same century. i feel its strong possibility that this has happened here, although at a much later date to the original knife. victoriana itself is a mismatch of known styles, but i wonder if this was a product of the time, or just a bad match.
would love some opinions here, i this is just my assumption and feeling. also, whether the CR is known to anyone.
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Old 8th June 2005, 01:42 AM   #4
Jim McDougall
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Hi Brian,
An extremely interesting piece, and I think you have some outstanding perspective on its seemingly progressive history. In a brief look through material on markings it seems that the crown with large lettered initials as seen here was often used by English gunsmiths on thier work. The blade certainly seems to have some age, and such markings in this arrangement I noted were from early 18th century onward. Possibly we may be looking for a gunsmith who may have furbished this piece?
All the best,
Jim
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Old 8th June 2005, 12:59 PM   #5
Jens Nordlunde
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It is an interesting knife BI is showing. To me the CR with the crown stands for Charles Rex. It could have been made in India, knowing who the coming owner would be, or it could have been made on arrival to England after Charles I got it. I think it is most likely that it was made in India Ė but who knows. The blade is old, it could very well be as old as the Jencks blade (early 1600), and it could be English, although I think it is Indian made. The hilt is strange, as I doubt that an Indian craftsman would mix agate and jade in this way, the two bands looks suspiciously too, as does the form of the hilt. If the ramís head is as crisp as BI says, I think the hilt must have been broken and a new one made, using the rams head from the old hilt.
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Old 8th June 2005, 09:06 PM   #6
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I agree with it being a composite. Although jade is hard, it is brittle too I think. The mix is a little strange.
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Old 8th June 2005, 11:19 PM   #7
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hi,
would jim, jens and battara (or anyone else) like to put a value on this. i'm not looking for a valuation as such, but just curious how you would judge this, going from all your assumptions. i valued it in my head, and still think i was accurate. but, in reality (the place outside my own head) i was completely wrong. the value, in this case, is an attribution to its description, given the supposition of provenance and in this case, i hope the moderators will agree. the piece is sold and now locked away permanantly in a collection, but someone paid the price, according to his faith in its described history. you can only judge what you see and go by your feelings. i felt this was put together, maybe just before entering the first 'known' owner in its recent history. the seller and buyer disagreed. i am not relenting as my feelings havent changed. look forward to a few stabs, no matter how wild.
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Old 9th June 2005, 03:41 AM   #8
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Hi Brian,
It seems we have all agreed that there is a great deal of speculation concerning this piece and certainly such provenance as associated with it only begs for scrutiny and support. Your astute observations and determined questions are hallmarks of your scholarship and knowledge on these weapons, and it is doubtful that further assessment as far as value would be useful. I have always thought that public discussion on these matters is best avoided here so I would forego estimates of valuation, but would very much be interested in continuing the research and discussion.

I think the observations you guys have made on the hilt materials are most interesting, and since this topic is out of my scope, I continue to focus on the blade and markings. I agree with Jens that this is likely a very early blade, but am still wondering on the marking. CR certainly does seem possible for Charles Rex, but did he use that type marking or title on personal items etc?

All the best,
Jim
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Old 9th June 2005, 08:37 AM   #9
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hi jim,
you are right, of course, in that the price has no bearing on the actual piece. but, i wasnt after a valuation for future reference, but rather a discussion on how you percieve a piece. if you are a collector, and not just a pure academic, then the value will run along side importance. you will price something according to all the boxes the piece ticks. some people will value things higher that others, and the market itself because he sees something there that others dont.
this piece is a great example, in that all those that commented found fault, whether to question the blade, the date, or the composition. no one in their right mind would rely purely on someone elses speculation, and you have to question everything and try to soak in all data (including market value) and then attempt some sort of conclusion. if your own speculation marries up with that of the original description, then you are ahead of the game. if not, then you are left confused when someone comes along that disagrees.
someone did disagree and paid a staggering £96000 for it ($175,250).
this makes you rethink for a moment, then you sit back comfortably and trust your initial thoughts.
the purpose of this post, was not just to list an interesting dagger, but also a statement of how easy it is to just believe what you read and base your own assessment on someone elses.
crazy world, eh!
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Old 9th June 2005, 12:57 PM   #10
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It should be possible to determine if the marking is the marking Charles I used, if it is not exactly the same, it could have been made in India. This kind of markings are very often used by kings and queens, and I see no reason why this mar should not stand for king Charles I. Any other postulates?

I guess the seller must have been very pleased with the price. My bit would probably have been where the auction house started the bidding.
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Old 10th June 2005, 01:25 AM   #11
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Hi Brian,
Thank you so much for the outstanding explanation on that. I suspected this was your course but wanted to be sure, and now that you explain the perspective it makes perfect sense. Nicely done !!
I cannot even imagine the prices being paid for these weapons these days!!Thats why I'm just a researcher!!

Jens,
I'm with you on the bidding level where my card would have hit the floor.
I think your idea on the marking is on target, and perhaps we need to find other items used by Charles I that might reflect similar markings.

All the best,
Jim
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